A collection of thoughts on this the day before the Transgender Day of Visibility
I’ve been trying to find a coherent and nicely packaged way into talking about the current realities of parenting a transgender child while living in a country1 that is trying to legislate them into crushing despair and/or suicide while simultaneously stoking resentments about the very existence of trans people2 in order to distract from all of policy failures and OMG it all ends with me just lying on the floor sighing heavily and wondering why such simple shit has to be so fucking hard sometimes.
Maybe I should start with an anecdote?
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A couple weeks ago, a family member3 called to ask if it was true that schools were forcing kids to change genders and going so far as to schedule surgeries to remove their breasts and/or genitalia. To which I replied: what?
I followed up with: No.
Then: Are you serious right now?
Once I realized that, yes, this was an earnestly asked question, I explained how no one is doing this. Literally zero times has this happened. Fox News, etc.,4 is just making stuff up to keep you terrified of something every moment of every day. That is how they stay in business.5
“Isn’t that illegal?” said relative asked.
“Yes and no,” I said, “but let’s focus on the trans thing.”
[there was a pause in my writing here because I had to stop and stare off into the middle distance for a bit. Like one does.]
One person’s experience is not data. I can, however, say that I’ve heard/read/sought out a lot of stories about kids transitioning and there’s a pattern. Gender affirmation care is one of the most slow and deliberate processes you could undertake. Absolutely nothing happens without great thought and lots of documentation, especially when kids are involved.6
But we all know the hate being heaped on the trans community and their allies has absolutely nothing to do with the reality of what gender affirming treatment is. It’s about power and maintaining it.7
It’s just so bad right now, you guys. I worry so much about what this world will do to my younger kid.8 I worry for all of the other trans kids, too, mind -- but any parent can confirm that the terror you feel for your own baby is its own kind of consuming.
Rather than dwell on a fear that is far beyond what I personally can control,9 I'm going to focus on the joy of being exactly who you are and doing what you love. Which means I'm going to talk about the Iditarod.10
Quince Mountain11 was the first openly trans musher to harness up some dogs and race out of Willow. His race was cut short because of Covid and other illness. A bummer, yes, but it was a weird year all the way around.
Apayauq Reitan was the first openly trans musher to finish the race. Last year, I watched her progress on the 1,000 mile course in a state of something like prayer. If this young adult (who is close in age to my young almost-adult) can make it to the end, then my kid will be okay too. Which is an awful lot to hang on someone I don’t even know but here we are.
Every time Reitan’s tracker stopped or a storm blew in or she stayed longer in a checkpoint than expected, I held my breath. When she crossed under the burled arch as the red lantern, I literally wept with happiness and relief and a dozen other feelings I can’t articulate.
In long dog races, there are checkpoints where you can rest and regroup.12 The road to the checkpoint may have been fraught with hazards, like blizzards or moose or tussocks. The road ahead might be even worse. But while you are in the checkpoint, you can take stock. You can bind your moose wounds or whatever. You can prepare for the unknown ahead.
These stories about people who are living their lives to the fullest are like a checkpoint. We can take a breath during this violent and complicated time. Then we’ll get back on the sled.
A quick hit of joy, if only for Kate Bornstein’s laugh
I live in New York State, which is pretty progressive when it comes to treating all people like people. The country isn’t New York State.
who have always existed but have only recently asked to not be treated like garbage
she lives in the south, yes, and watches Fox News. I appreciate that she asked the question but *insert growling dread here*
It’s not just Fox and its ilk, of course. The New York Times is doing a great job of villainizing the trans community, too, as Michael Hobbs and Peter Shamshiri explained in this If Books Could Kill special.
I know it’s more complicated than that and includes cable TV and billionaires. Don’t @ me.
If the kid is pre-puberty, there is no medical intervention. The kid can socially transition, which means wear the clothes and use the pronouns they prefer. Some of these kids discover through this process that they actually don’t want to transition at all, that this wasn’t what they wanted. No harm, no foul. It’s pretty easy to unwind.
Older kids do that same thing with clothes, pronouns, etc., but, medically, a doctor will stop puberty from happening with one of a couple of different drugs.* If the kid then discovers that, nope, I'm not trans, the drug is stopped and puberty continues. No harm, no foul.
Only after all of that does anything even vaguely permanent start, like gender affirming hormones. By then, the kid is usually only a year or two from being an adult.
* I still have a touch of PTSD from getting my insurance company to pay for and for the pharmacy to ship one of these drugs. And, remember, I live in one of the BEST CASE SCENARIO states. I can only imagine what it’s like in, say, Tennessee.
Tale as old as time, really. Every wannabe fascist/autocrat knows that the quickest way to complete control is to give a fair chunk of the population a group to blame all of their problems on. It’s always the women or the Jews or the queers or the [fill in the blank] that keeps us from truly being happy. We have always been at war with Eurasia.
I mean, I worry about the older kid, too, but it’s not nearly as visceral.
Which isn’t to say I’m not involved in advocacy, etc. But me dwelling on my own child (and those like her) and giving myself an ulcer changes exactly nothing about the system we’re in. Hard things are hard. Action is better than anxiety. Lather, rinse, repeat.
You knew I’d get to dog sledding eventually. The great thing about mushing is that the dogs don’t really care, even if some of the people around the race do. Plus, you’re wearing so many layers of clothing, it’s hard to make snap judgements about anyone’s gender. Related: can “cold” be a gender?
Marathons would be much more appealing if you could just sit for a minute and have a snack. #justsayin